John Hartman: Cities

John HartmanCities
by John Hartman
Published by TouchWood Editions, 2007
Hardcover, 144 pages

Cities, the driving forces behind the economic and cultural engines of a country, are very much on the minds of Canadians in the first decade of the 21st century. The new paintings of John Hartman, one of Canada’s major contemporary painters, offer an artistic vision of cities as living organisms, deeply intertwined with the natural terrain of a geographic site. Hartman has established an international reputation for is large-scale paintings of landscape animated by the mythical and the mundane stories of specific locales. His paintings of Georgian Bay, of Newfoundland, and before that, of the land around Midland and and its shadowy history of aboriginal settlement and conflict with the Jesuits there, have gained a legion of admirers and attention across Canada and internationally. Hartman’s vivid landscapes excite the viewer with their abundance of colour and sense of the land as something infinite and yet possible to contemplate. On one hand, the land in Hartman’s paintings is unbridled, massive and primordial, the thing that precedes Man and will outlast him; but on the other hand, it is incomplete without man’s presence. No place without people, no people without place. In Hartman’s new series the carbuncular accumulation of close houses and towers and cranes and docks and roads that we call cities are presented as their own natural formation. Man is busy in these paintings, and though we do not see him, is as integral to the landscape as now dwarfed mountains, seas and lakes. The landscape is still front and centre but it has changed its appearance and in its extraordinary purpose, ignores Nature as Canadians used to think of it. The cities are engines. The cities are our raison d’etre.